He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.Psalm 23:2-3
This psalm is so reassuring. Reminding us that in all journeys – physical and symbolic – God is with is. God leads us to a place of quiet when we need rest and renewal. He leads us to a place where we can rest in the knowledge that all our needs are provided for.
He cares for us and makes sure that we are on the right path. God makes sure that we won’t get lost, wont lose our way, when he is with us, guiding us in every step we take. It is when we are at crossroads in our lives with many choices of paths to take that we turn to God and ask Him which way to go.
This psalm is reassuring as it speaks of God’s care for us in all we might face in life. God is with us as guide and comforter.
It is an amazing thing that our God listens to all our joys, fears and concerns. God listens to everything from our fears about global affairs (wars, climate change, societal issues, etc.) to fleeting thoughts about our own life. God listens and hears them all.
It is in prayer that we focus on bringing our concerns to God. Although, God sees and hears every thought and concern which passes through the mind of every person in the world. Prayer is powerful as it is time spent thinking about issues with God. Trusting that God will advise and act. Prayer in common with others is powerful.
Prayer may seem a passive thing and many people in today’s world may question the point of it but as Christians we know the power of prayer. Theologian Jim Wallis writes “Prayer is an action in itself, a potent political weapon to be used in spiritual warfare against the most powerful forces of the world.”1 When we pray to God we place our hopes and fears into the hands of the one holy and most powerful God. We believe in a God of love, justice and peace. When we pray we trust that God will act in accordance with these qualities.
God listens to us even when we do not listen to God. God is always there to listen to us when there is no-one else to listen. Jesus is the days leading up to his death called his disciples to pray. This was at a time when events must have seemed overwhelming. It was especially important at that time that the disciples watched (kept alert to events) and prayed (brought these events before God). I would like to share a Taizé song which reinforces the importance of keeping watch and praying – Bleibet heir (Stay with me).
1 The Northumbria Community, Celtic Daily Prayer Book One The Journey Begins.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
It is through worshipping God that we learn more about who God is, who Jesus is, and how we should respond. In Paul’s letter to the Philippians he shares an older hymn which speaks of Christ’s humility and exaltation. Paul over 2000 years ago knew that the best way for people to learn essential facts about the Christian faith was through song. For many people it is easier to remember a song than to remember ordinary plain text. In the English translations this passage does not really look all that much like a song but in the Greek it does.
Songs are things which stick with us from worship. I admit that often the thing I remember from a service is not the words of the sermon but a line or two of a hymn. That is why it is so important that hymns are chosen with care and consideration for the messages they convey. Despite all my theology degrees I still think that the hymn “I am the church” is one of the best explanations of what church should be.
This is why I love songs which set important texts of the church to music like Keith and Kristyn Getty’s We believe and Hillsong’s This I believe. Both these texts set the Apostles Creed to music. The hymn in Philippians is seen by many as an early formulation of a creed which explains Christ’s life, death, resurrection and exaltation as well as calling us to worship him.
Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labour in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain. In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat – for he grants sleep to those he loves.Psalm 127:1-2
There is a saying “patience is a virtue”. It is often said as a reminder to someone waiting impatiently for some gift of something to happen. At this time as Lockdown is easing we would be wise to heed the saying and be patient in our waiting for restrictions on our lives to be lifted. For schools and universities to return to in person teaching. For church buildings to reopen. For library buildings to reopen.
We need to trust God’s timetable. Rushing things and working flat out is an act of vanity and is pointless. It is only when things are done in God’s timing that things are successful. God gives rest to those he loves.
let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and nightNehemiah 1:6
When we pray to God it may not seem like God is listening. The illness, destruction and war may rage on. Our anxieties and fears may not evaporate but God does listen. God may not respond right away or in the way we expect. It is our duty to follow God’s example and to listen. To listen for God’s response. Listening is a two way thing. In a conversation people take turns to speak and to listen. It is the same in our prayers to God. We speak to God and God listens. God speaks to us and we listen. When any of these four steps is missed then there is a breakdown in communication both in the case of our conversations with each other and in our conversations with God. Often the point of breakdown is at our end. We either fail to speak or fail to listen. God in his love and care for us is always listening and always loving.
I love this Taizé song – Bendigo al Señor. It speaks of God hearing our prayers.
‘Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!Isaiah 43:18-19
At this time when Lockdown is easing and things are reopening it is important that we heed the words of the prophet Isaiah not to dwell on the past – not to spend our time thinking about how things used to be before Lockdown.
Instead Isaiah is calling us to see how God is doing a new thing. We need to observe wha God is doing. Observe the new things which are springing up. We need to see the path which God is making. We need to see the way forward which God is creating in the apparent wilderness of the future.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David.Isaiah 55:3
‘I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.’John 16:32
God’s word and covenant is one of love – unfailing love. Love that is with us through all things. Love which endures everything. God’s love never fails, never gives up, never runs out. Because of this we can trust it and in. We can trust in God. We can trust that God knows the way for us. God knows the way of life, the way of love, the way of peace.
God’s covenant of peace is an even deeper peace than any of us can ever imagine. It goes beyond the ending of conflict. It is a peace which touches hearts and minds. Bringing stillness and deepening as we rest more in it. God’s peace is not a numbness. God’s peace is a peace which is calm. When we are resting in God’s peace we are renewed and re-energised for what God calls us to do, for following the path God calls us to follow. We feel God’s peace both in the quiet moments and in the busy moments when we feel we are in exactly the place God has called us to be.
On this Pentecost Sunday we celebrate the coming of God’s Holy Spirit upon the church and all believers. Through God’s Holy Spirit we access the gifts of His love and peace.
It is interesting how some people struggle deeply with solitude – feeling the absence of others deeply. While others crave it and feel most themselves in solitude. Until Lockdown the norm was to be with people – folk who preferred their own company were considered odd. But now in Lockdown many people find themselves in solitude. For those who are on their own and struggle with solitude (who normally fill their days by meeting friends, going to activities and social events) this time is especially hard.
Yet for those whose life had become so busy but who crave solitude this time has given them the sort of solitude which is invigorating. This time away from the expectation to socialise, to be with people gives them the rest they need.
At this time many are experiencing solitude (being on their own) for the first time. Some are finding it difficult. Others aren’t sure what to make of it. While others are thriving.
Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God.
Most of us have an internal dialogue going on in our head. Most have at least one voice in our head offering commentary of the the things which are happening. Sometimes it is speaking a mile to a dozen. Other times it is quieter – more gentle. Often one of the voices is a voice of rationality, calming our fears, offering a different perspective. The psalmist in this verse describes an internal voice speaking to their soul asking it why it is so sad, downcast and down in the dumps. They capture the moment of realisation so well. The wait a minute what reason do I have for feeling the way I do. The comes the pep talks. The voice of encouragement. The voice telling them to get out of the funk and get on with life. The voice of hope, telling of a better time God has promised for them. A time when they will be able to praise God for what God has done. A time to thank God and declare them Saviour and God.
In all of life we experience these moments where we notice thoughts and feelings passing through. We need to listen to the voice telling us to put our hope in God.
Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth. Genesis 9:16
At the moment the symbol we see a lot of is the rainbow. Rainbows at the moment are associated with appreciation for the NHS. For the work of doctors and nurses. Rainbows have been used as symbols since biblical times. God used the rainbow as a symbol of his covenant with Noah. His covenant that he will protect Noah and will not send another flood to destroy all of life. Rainbows than and now are a symbol of the protection of life.
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 1 Corinthians 13:1
We have also heard a lot of musical instruments – particularly improvised ones – posts and pans acting as cymbals. At 8pm on Thursdays the streets resound with the sound of clapping and the banging of pots and pans. Throughout the bible there are references to cymbals and other musical instruments. In Corinthians we are reminded that without love and thought it is just noise.
God of love, you set your rainbow in the sky as a reminder of your covenant of protection. At this time remember your covenant and protect creation – plants, animals and people. Help us to grow in love and care for each other and all of creation.